Months ago, I sat down to write about the Seattle Chill, that social coolness that people new to our town find so perplexing. I found myself squirming as I wrote, because I realized I was describing myself.
Recently, I was asked to take a personality test, something I’ve long resisted. I learned, among other things, that I’m the type of introvert often mistaken for an extrovert. This insight came as a great relief to me. It made me feel like I’m not a bad person for needing time alone, especially if I’ve been super-social—it’s just the way I’m wired. And I would venture this: Seattle is full of people like me. We can rally and behave like extroverts when we need or want to, but because we are true introverts, we just can’t keep it up all the time.
We’re good at cordial. Not so good at gregarious. Good at meeting for coffee, not so quick to extend that first invitation to dinner. As a Seattle native whose roots are mostly Scandinavian, I can play the old ethnic card. Taciturn Finns, somber Swedes—they are my people. And it is true the early Scandinavian settlers set the local social thermostat at a level that matched the climate: cool, with occasional slightly warm periods.
But there’s a twist to this story: I think a lot of the people who move here and complain about the Chill also take advantage of it to excuse behavior they wouldn’t get away with back home. They secretly like this license we give them to be socially lazy. Maybe they left their hometowns and moved to this far Northwest corner to get away from social and family obligations. So they embrace customs we natives might describe as cordial but on the cool side and take them right into the deep freeze. They out-chill the Seattle Chill, and then blame it all on us.
This could be wildly unfair. What I’m describing could be more of a generational change, related more to all the ways we now communicate online and how that shift has affected our in-person interactions.
But, ever the optimist, here’s my hope: that conversations about the Seattle Chill and what, if anything, we can do about it will turn us toward each other, not further away.
In my new neighborhood, people are starting to gather on Fridays in our small central park. It’s a little awkward, but it’s a start. A welcome change from last fall, when, shortly after we moved here, I went to the neighborhood trail-building work party and found myself taking it personally that no one introduced themselves to me, as we hoisted buckets of gravel up and down the muddy slopes.
I remember tried to have a private laugh about it as I walked home; trying to chalk it up to the Seattle Chill, even though my Seattle grandma would have called it plain old bad manners.
However: you never would have caught her at a neighborhood picnic in a public park, let alone a trail-building work party. So maybe we are making a little progress. Maybe we should cut ourselves some slack, newcomers and natives alike. Give ourselves time, accept that there will be awkwardness, as we learn how to warm up.
Here’s a link to my article, “Laughter and Forgetting,” in Seattle Met Magazine.
Our film, Quick Brown Fox: an Alzheimer’s Story is now available on Hulu, Amazon and other digital sites.
Radio lovers: you can hear the Restless Nest commentaries every Tuesday at 7:50 a.m., Thursdays at 4:54 p.m. and Fridays at 4:55 p.m. on KBCS, streaming online at kbcs.fm and on the air at 91.3 in the Seattle area. Podcasts available.
Here’s nest artist Kim Groff-Harrington’s website.